I have a lot of precious memories from Syria, especially from my first year at university, which was wonderful and eye opening. I was following my passion in Environmental Science in Damascus, and my life was going well. But that year, the war broke out. At first, my family was anxious, but we were still hopeful that nothing would change for us. However, in the second year, the situation started to escalate quite rapidly and brutally. Soon, there were car explosions and mortar shelling on a daily basis, as well as electricity blackouts, water scarcity, and food shortages.
I was desperate to flee but my parents were reluctant for me to travel alone or illegally. So I started applying to universities around the world and I was actually accepted to many of them. Unfortunately, I was constantly rejected in my applications for a student visa. In this time, my family started moving backward and forward from Syria to Lebanon. For years we had to flee from Syria when things got too dangerous, and leave Lebanon when our money ran out. It was a stressful time, as we lived very close to the terrorist line in Syria.
Finally, we were approved to come to Australia as refugees. We were very fortunate to have an aunt here, and if it wasn’t for that we might never have been given the visas that would change our lives forever. When we landed in this new place and they said, ‘Welcome to Australia’, that was just an incredible moment that no words can describe. But the closest word I can use was that of relief.
As soon as we arrived, I was very eager to start my new life. I first got a job in security at Revesby Worker’s Club, which really improved my spoken English and helped me gain confidence. But I was also suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, so any time I heard a balloon popping or a window closing, I would just fall to the floor. I knew I had to do something to stop these symptoms, so I started running, because it was free – all you need are the shoes! After a while, I grew more ambitious and did my first marathon. I also got a keyboard as a gift and I started learning piano. Finally, I began taking photos with my cell phone. All of these three things helped me to overcome a lot of stress and anxiety.
After a year, I started volunteering and working with organisations to help support youth and refugees. At first, I was just sharing my story. But then I started helping newly arrived young refugees resettle in Australia with the Multicultural Youth Affairs Network. I then undertook a program to train a group of young people to run in the Sydney Morning Herald half marathon. Next, we are going to do the City to Surf! I’m also working with Settlement Services International helping new arrivals to get involved in a youth mentoring program and have co-designed a youth employment program for refugees with UWS. Finally, this year I was fortunate to be accepted into a degree in Electrical Engineering at UTS. I’m really passionate about sustainable development and renewable energies, and I know that through this degree I can pursue this passion.
I’m so grateful to this country that has given me and all of my family so many opportunities. My goals now are to design and innovate some new alternatives to fossil fuels. I’m also interested in building a platform where young people who are passionate about becoming youth leaders can gain confidence and upskill themselves. Individually, I’m always giving people advice about this, but I’d like to create a space where more people can be helped to achieve this goal.
Life is ever changing, but through the numerous efforts of individuals, change into a better world can occur. Martin Luther King once said, ‘If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl; but by all means keep moving!’
Photographer: Kurt Tilse www.instagram.com/kjtilse
This month, we are bringing you a series of stories commissioned by TransferWise for their incredible Faces of Australia campaign, celebrating the contributions of migrants to Australia. Find out more about this exciting project here: https://transferwise.com/community/facesofaustralia